Recently I read a chapter from one of my favorite books, Zen et Heureux (see Books), called “Comment ne pas se presser”. This book is in French and that means “How not to rush”. It’s had a big effect on me. One of the key messages is that nothing in the universe rushes and yet everything gets done and done very well. For example, a tree will always grow at the speed trees grow, no faster, and yet we have so many magnificent trees around us to admire. At the beginning of the chapter, the authors quoted Lao Tzu;
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
Somehow in the French translation this seems even more beautiful. When I think about this, it seems to carry so much truth with it. It seems true. It feels true. Things in the universe happen at a particular speed, they have a particular rhythm, and we are part of that and it only makes sense to do the things we are doing in the right rhythm. The authors made an observation that has stuck in my head very strongly. Effectively they said;
If you want to watch a film but you’re in a rush, would it be worth playing the film in fast-forward?
Obviously not. How crazy to play a film in fast-forward. There’s a natural speed that a film must be played and it doesn’t make sense to try and do that faster. It’s so obvious in this case, yet we do this sort of thing to ourselves all the time. We have a task to do and we try and rush it. We have to drive to work and we try to rush and get there sooner. In fact, sometimes it seems that to be successful in life (how do we define success? – that’s another issue) we have to be the best at rushing and getting things done faster than every one else.
So what does it mean to not rush? What will happen if we don’t rush? Well, last week I tried it in a hotel room. I had about an hour left in the morning before I needed to leave for the office. I realised that I had to have a shave, shower, iron a shirt, get dressed and pack my briefcase before I could leave and my first reaction was to start to panic. I knew I was running late. I was going to be late. Normally, in this situation, I’d start trying to rush everything so not to be late. I’d be really stressed and panicky trying to go as fast as I could but, in the end, I’d still be 5-10 minutes late. However, this day, I thought “No. I’m not going to rush. I trust that everything will get done and I’ll just concentrate on what I’m doing now.” and it worked! I was calm and content just doing one thing at a time. And somehow, everything did get done and I was 5 minutes early! Wow! That felt great.
Then, two days ago, I tried the same thing at the office. I decided not to worry about how much I thought I had to do that day. Not to worry about how many items were on my to-do list and how many emails I had in my inbox. All of those things can take care of themselves. If they are on my to-do list or in my emails, I won’t forget them and I’ll get to them at the right time. They will each take the time they need to complete and trying to do a lot of them at once and faster and faster is futile. So I decided to look at my emails and to-dos and start with the one that attracted me the most at that time. Then I tried to concentrate on only that topic until it was done to my satisfaction. Then look for the next thing I was being drawn to, and so on. I was able to keep this frame of mind all day long and it was great! I went home thinking it was the most productive day that I can remember. I had certainly achieved more that day than in any day where I’d being trying to rush and go faster. This is certainly a feeling that I’d like to keep going.
Because I was more in tune with the natural rhythm of life and the universe, I was more effective. I made better decisions. And somehow, good things just seemed to happen during the day. For example, I picked a fairly hard task that I thought would take about 2 hours. In the past I’d get stressed immediately – “oh, I’ve got so much to do”, “how am I going to get those other things done today if I do this?”, “I’m useless because I can’t get these things done” – and my mind gets clogged up with these thoughts and doesn’t perform at it’s optimum level. This day, I forgot everything else and just concentrated properly on what I needed to do. Then, just like magic, I found that I’d finished the task I thought would take 2 hours in just 50 minutes! I was so happy and I had 70 minutes of extra time handed to me.
I’m trying to take these thoughts into every part of my life now. There is a natural rhythm to life. There’s no point trying to change that, it won’t work and you can only make things worse. The best situation is to be in complete harmony with the natural rhythm. Don’t allow your mind to be cluttered with things from the past or worries about the future when you need it to work on a task in the “now”. If we are in harmony with the natural rhythm of life, we can trust that all will be done – just like Lao Tzu said – “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
I fully agree with this concept Peter. I find the Tao Te Ching by Lao -tzu a great life guide to a peaceful, contented & fulfilling life. I like to think of life as being like a river, it follows to the sea, rushing or fighting against the flow will just make the journey more difficult, in the end the river still ends at the sea. So in life, be like the river, go with the flow, our life has purpose, all we need to do is trust in this, enjoy the moment and see where life takes us =)
I just love the power of this story ! I am not surprised that your ability to be mindful, fully present and engaged in the moment have resulted in a more focused and productive day. Everything in life indeed has a rhythm. It ebbs and flows and it is best to ride or surf the wave than constantly fight the current, which only scatters energy let alone our joy.
I like the idea of “scattering energy” if we try and fight the rhythm of life… Thanks for the comments.